CNIB online library launches with 10,000 titles

MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — The Canadian National Institute for the Blind Wednesday took the wraps off an online library that its president said would allow him to read a daily newspaper for the first time in 30 years.

CNIB officials

demonstrated the library, which will be offered through its Web site, at the offices of Microsoft Canada, which has been a partner in developing the library since it was announced last year. Build on an infrastructure called the Integrated Digital Library System (IDLS), the digital library will handle production, acquisition, client records, circulation, digital rights management, secure and permanent storage, and delivery to the client.

The CNIB has had a library since 1906 with more than 60,000 titles, about half of which are audio books. These are being converted into digital format for the online library, which is expected to double in size by 2007. About 10,000 of the titles available today can be read online, while the others can be ordered in Braille, CD-ROM or other formats.

“”We knew that analogue was a technology that was going to be obsolete, and we also knew that we had to find a way to produce books faster,”” said Margaret McGrory, the CNIB’s CIO. “”The phrase ‘content is king’ used to be popular in the dot-com era, but it has never been more true for us.””

Jim Sanders, the CNIB’s president and CEO, agreed. He said the library represents one of the many ways technology has allowed him to manage a variety of tasks himself.

“”I have regained my privacy,”” he said. “”When you’re blind, someone reads your mail. Someone helps you with your personal banking. We know that we live in a sighted world and that we have to learn skills to adapt, but this technology is allowing us to close the information gap forever.””

Microsoft Canada president Frank Clegg said the library will eliminate production costs that can put some books out of reach. He compared a Hardy Boys novel that costs about $9 with its Braille counterpart, that might cost $45. Clegg is also the chair of a campaign called “”That All May Read . . . “” that is seeking $33 million to fund the digital library.

Many of the adaptive technologies the visually impaired use to access the Internet — audio tools, refreshable keyboards with Braille-creating pins — don’t work with many Web sites, Clegg said. The digital library will aggregate the content and will work according to visually impaired users’ preferences. Part of the library’s 11-month development process included a series of videotaped interviews where the PC habits of visually impaired users were studied.

The site will include a number of personalization features, including the ability to select page layouts, position the navigation bar and choose colour contrasts for users with limited vision. Besides books, the site will include 40 daily and community newspapers from a variety of sources, including Rogers Media and CanWest.

In conjunction with the library’s launch, Microsoft and the CNIB also unveiled a Children’s Discovery Portal, which includes online polls and chat rooms. Some users are already hooked.

“”I’ve been using the chat rooms,”” said eleven-year-old CNIB client Timothy Peters, who attended the launch with his family. “”But now my sister thinks I’m doing it too much.””

Clegg said the Discovery Portal brought some unexpected challenges. “”It’s not just blind kids that are using it,”” he said, “”so we realized we had to revisit the design and make it more cool visually for the sighted kids.””

Canada is the only G8 country that does not fund a comprehensive library for the blind or visually impaired, but in a surprise appearance at Wednesday’s launch, Minister of Human Resources and Public Works Jane Stewart said the government will commit close to $6 million for the CNIB’s projects.

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